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Behind the mask: The emotional symptoms of Parkinson’s

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While the effects of Parkinson’s on movement are often the most visible, symptoms of Parkinson’s, including emotional and cognitive challenges, can often have an even more significant effect on quality of life.

Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s may outnumber motor symptoms and can appear years before motor symptoms. This article focuses on emotional symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and apathy. We’ll also explain how these common symptoms can be treated and managed with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes, and we will provide some helpful resources.

Depression and anxiety

Depression is a chemical imbalance that can be treated for the most part. About 40-50% of people with Parkinson’s experience depression. In addition to its impacts on mood and mental well-being, depression can make the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s worse, so it’s critical to identify and treat symptoms of depression right away.

Talking with a qualified therapist or psychiatrist can help you manage depression and give you strategies for dealing with triggers that worsen it.

Endorphins are the “happy hormones” released by your brain when exercising. They trigger a positive reaction and make you feel better, so it’s a good idea to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

Research suggests that social connections positively impact your physical and mental health. A recent study funded by Parkinson Canada focuses on the power of social connection.

Approximately one in three people living with Parkinson’s will experience various levels of anxiety at some point, which presents as jitteriness, worry, panic, fear, or tension. Though worry is an understandable reaction to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, if it turns into anxiety that affects your ability to function, or a tendency to self-isolate, it is essential to communicate these concerns to your physician. Many people with Parkinson’s find that medication significantly minimizes the symptoms of anxiety.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation can help restore a sense of calm. Making smart nutritional choices can also help. Proper nutrition impacts the effectiveness of medication. Medication can help alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s and can help improve your sense of overall well-being and counter anxiety symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to provide a structured approach to help people identify the thoughts that contribute to emotional discomfort and replace them with more empowering choices. A therapist trained in CBT can identify new ways to deal with triggers that increase anxiety.


Apathy is a loss of motivation, desire, and interest, which may be misinterpreted as laziness, uninterest, or lack of initiative. If you have apathy, it can affect your attitude and negatively affect the treatment of Parkinson’s. If you have lost the incentive to take your medicine, it can exacerbate your motor symptoms. If you have lost the desire to exercise, work on hobbies, or attend social engagements, it can cause social isolation and affect your personal and work life.

Apathy responds best to active strategies, such as creating a weekly plan for the day or week ahead, such as making a plan to go to the coffee shop, meeting a friend for lunch, or exploring a new hobby.

Anxiety, depression and apathy can also increase the dependency of a person living with Parkinson’s on their care partner and add pressure to their routines. For this reason, the whole family should discuss the treatment of emotional symptoms seriously and openly.

Consider joining a support group

Parkinson Canada partners with many support groups that provide social and emotional support. People living with Parkinson’s will find empathetic encouragement from facilitators and members who understand their challenges.

It’s also a great way to make new friends. Members of our community tell us that joining a support group has improved their quality of life.

As one support group facilitator puts it, “Being able to meet people, to discuss this disease we have in common…it strengthens our bond.”

For more information on mental health and emotional supports, please contact our Information & Referral team at 1-800-565-3000 or

Parkinson Canada is not a crisis communications centre. If you are in immediate need of support, please find general information at Crisis Services Canada (and by phone at 1-833-456-4566).

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